After Annie Clark dropped out of Berklee College of Music, she moved to New York and tried to make it as a musician. Within a short time she was back at home in Texas, living with her parents. To say that subsequent ventures have been more successful would be an understatement. Now five albums and one Grammy Award into her solo career under the name St. Vincent, the scintillating singer-songwriter’s “Fear the Future” tour blazed through the House of Blues Thursday night.
Clark has a voice that spans three octaves, and she wields a rainbow of angular guitars on which she tears into searing riffs and storms of fuzz. Her ability to shed one skin and adopt another rivals that of the late, great David Bowie; between her last two albums, she has done so in the most extreme way yet. When she first appeared onstage Thursday night, she was sheathed in a shiny neon-pink bodysuit with matching thigh-high boots and a bob so sleek it may well have been lacquered to her scalp. She resembled a haunted mannequin more than she did any previous image of St. Vincent. The show’s projected visuals (women’s legs emerging from TVs, fingers smooshing retro phones that turned out to be cakes) were similarly unsettling, with an aesthetic sensibility that lay at the intersection of Warhol, Dali, and Lauren Kalman.
And yet here was where the genius came in. At the evening’s beginning, Clark played the perfectly plastic glamazon. Standing in front of a black curtain, she held a microphone in both hands to wryly purr the title track from debut album, “Marry Me,” over a bed of strings, and moved so mechanistically one may have expected to see a wind-up key in her back.
As she advanced through lean, electrifying arrangements of some best-loved tracks from her first four albums, the curtain was pulled away, revealing no hidden backing musicians. Her movements loosened, her hair fell out of place, and the ice in her voice melted. She bantered minimally; she was here to show, not tell. The artifice dissolved, revealing the art and the artist. The half ended with “Birth in Reverse,” and Clark disappearing behind the drawing curtains.
The show’s second half — also performed over pre-recorded backing tracks — was the whole of recent release “MASSEDUCTION,” which embraces those most irresistible of subjects: sex, death, and all their friends. Live, the songs surged and seared. She staggered back and forth on her chrome heels as she blistered through a guitar solo on the sinister ad-jingle-driven “Pills,” the kinky “Savior” slithered and writhed, and the longing ballad “New York” had the crowd both clapping and singing along. By the final song, the melancholy “Smoking Section,” Clark’s voice was worn threadbare, but her magnetism hadn’t faltered. A sold-out hall of disciples cheered in awe.
At House of Blues, Boston, ThursdayZoë Madonna can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @knitandlisten.